France heads to the polls: 5 things you need to know
Elections in France.

France heads to the polls: 5 things you need to know

Posted April 22, 2017 03:00 AM by Rob Eno Elections in France.
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Bonjour mes amis. On Sunday April 23, the people of France will go to the polls to elect a new president. It has been a long-fought campaign, one in which candidates who have normally been thought of as fringe have a shot at winning. Here’s a quick rundown of what you should know about the election.

1. When are the polls open?

When polls open depends on what part of France voters live in. France’s colonies are now overseas departments which vote in the presidential election. As Bloomberg reports, voting in some overseas territories will begin on Saturday April 22, 2017 Paris time. The main event will happen on Sunday April 23, 2017. Polls open in France at 8 a.m. local time. They close in most areas at 7 p.m. local time, and at 8 p.m. in the larger cities. 

2. The media blackout

By French law, candidates must cease campaigning as midnight strikes on the day before the Sunday election. There is often a frantic period of last minute campaigning on that Friday evening. There is also, by law, a media blackout of election coverage in France starting at the same time. The local French media is forbidden by law from covering the race until polls have closed.

As Politico notes, the French law only applies to publications inside of France. Many other outlets that are published in French, in Belgium and Switzerland for instance, will likely cover the election real time.

3. When will results be known? Is this the final election?

Paris is six hours ahead of the Eastern Time Zone in the U.S. The polls close at 2 p.m. EDT. Results should start coming in by midafternoon on the East Coast. Bloomberg reports that exit polling is usually adequate enough to determine who the top two finishers will be during the preliminary election. The top two finishers will face off in a May 7, 2017 final election.  

There are signs that this race may be harder to call because it is so close. Final results should be known by early evening Eastern Time.

4. Who’s leading?

Determining who will finish in the top two spots and head to a runoff election is tough to do. Throughout the campaign, the top four candidates have been hovering around 20 percent of the vote, within the margin of error of polling.  The Economist has done a very good job of aggregating the polling so far in the race. Here’s how the chart looked recently. Take a look at their most up to date data here.

french election chart 

Source: The Economist, “The centre can indeed hold in France’s presidential election”

The top four candidates, in order of polling, are: the pro-EU centrist Emmanuel Macron, the nationalist Marine Le Pen, the free market classical liberal Fracois Fillion, and the left wing Jean-Luc Melenchon. Polling over the past few years has been wildly off across the globe, so the final results will be anyone’s guess. Any of the top four candidates has a shot at making it to the runoff election in two weeks.

5. Will a new government be elected as well?

The election this weekend is only for the presidency. Unlike in the United States, or in a purely parliamentary system, French elections for the national legislature do not fall on the same day as elections for the presidency. The French parliamentary elections will take place in June. If Marine Le Pen shocks the world and her home country, and wins the presidency, it will be hard for her to get a governing majority in the National Assembly. Her party currently only has two members.

These are the main things you should know about the French presidential election. Now it is up to you to make some pate, cut up some cheese, and pour some Beaujolais as you watch the results unfold on Sunday afternoon.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article listed the date for Saturday April 22, 2017 incorrectly. The date has been corrected.